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article imageFracking dispute heats up in U.S.

By Tim Sandle     Jul 26, 2015 in Environment
The controversial practice of fracking is at the center of a new health debate in the U.S. This is over whether the practice pose a risk of causing silicosis.
Fracking refers to the process of drilling deep into the planet. When deep enough, a high-pressure water mixture is aimed at the drilled rock so that any gas inside can be released. The full term is "hydraulic fracturing," and "fracking" is a colloquialism of this. Through this mechanism, water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high velocity; the pressure difference enables the gas to flow out to the head of the well so that it can be collected. Gas trapped in rocks is referred to as shale gas.
The practice of fracking has divided opinion. On one hand, advocates see it as releasing untapped energy, which allows nations to become more self-sufficient in power and this helps to push energy costs downwards. The counter views are that the process is harmful to the environment, by destroying unspoiled areas and affecting animals. There is also an argument that the activity is unsafe. For example, environmentalists contend that carcinogenic chemicals may escape and contaminate groundwater. Another safety issue relates to the potential for the process to trigger earthquakes.
According to The Guardian, a new concern has emerged in the U.S.: silicosis. This refers to a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust.
Writing in the paper, Michael Halpern notes: "Silica sand is used in fracking, and public health experts are increasingly concerned about its impact on those who work in the industry."
He also notes that some field studies carried out recently by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have discovered that 80 percent of samples taken from fracking sites have shown unsafe levels of airborne silica.
The problem is that the U.S. silica standard is woefully out-of-date and in its current form, safety bodies have trouble enforcing it. The drive to update the standard, or not, is being hotly debated. Those who support fracking argue "Is this an impediment to fracking?" Or is it a much-needed means to safeguard public health in need of an overhaul in light of the current fracking boom?
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